Thursday, 28 June 2012

Just goes to show that libraries are much more than books... but of course we already knew that! Swindon Central Library part 2

The more I think about what I wrote over the weekend, the more I realised what I’d missed out about Swindon Central Library; the diversity of services and range of borrowers reached.

The buzz and the layout of the library remind me more of an FE/HE library with computers in easy accessible location. Along with 4 express terminals on the ground floor, computers line the gangways and staircase of each floor, along with a learning zone on the first floor which can be divided off echoing back to a group study zone at an academic library. It feels very much that computers are the forefront.

 Spaces, such as the learning zone and the reading zone on the top floor where periodicals can be found, are used for library events and community outreach in a number of ways. There is not that much free space on the library floor and a majority of free space is used for book displays but the areas set aside for the community are flexible spaces that can be opened up for large audiences whilst still feeling intimate. They also lend themselves to technology, having space in the reading zone for a projector. It is also interesting to note that it is here, in the reading zone, the more traditional part of the central library if you like, that the reference collection can be found. I did question the fact that you have to walk two flights of stairs or go up two floors in a lift for a look at the daily paper but the area set aside is quiet with an interesting view of the Swindon skyline! I wonder if the papers are located there due to the ever present problem of items going “walkies”. This may also reflect the change in use of libraries over the last decade.

The learning zone which I mentioned above is hidden away on the first floor but has a set of ten public network computers along with an interactive whiteboard. This area is used by the community in partnership with the Job Centre and the public are helped with job searching, e-application and email set ups amongst other basic I.T. skills. Just another example of partnership working, bringing those who may not necessarily think the library has anything to offer them, and showing them the library of the modern age.

The library has the benefit of being attached to the old town hall which used to hold the local studies collection but can now be used for large events; anything from local studies meet ups to dance classes. This again helps the library to reach those hard to reach groups who may not necessarily view the library as a place for them but will be brought through the doors to see what the library offers, making the central library a hub of activity and the heart of the community.

Just goes to show that libraries are much more than books... but of course we already knew that!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Swindon Central Library - 21st Century Library

Yesterday I attended a CDG organised visit to Swindon Central Public Library... I work in the neighbouring county and it isn’t very often that there are visits set up to other public libraries and this provided an opportunity to see how another authority operates, a chance to pick up fresh ideas. The borough has 15 libraries which serve 200, 000 people. Swindon Central has been open since 2008 with a budget of £10 million and walking into it 4 years later it still feels like a new library.

Swindon libraries differ in one obvious way to Wiltshire’s in that there layouts are approached differently. Walking into Swindon Central is like walking into a bookshop whereas Wiltshire libraries still have a stereotypical library look. This is by no way a criticism to either authority; the bottom floor of Swindon Central is a buzz of activity, there are express choices and fast backs (1 week loans on bestsellers), express public network terminals plus newly arrived Tourist Information and all sorts of merchandise on sale. They have a busy cafe on the bottom floor and the Children’s Library is easily accessible. The ground floor acts as an express zone, with the front part of the library staying open 24hours. This is definitely a 21st century library. One observation that surprised me was the number of computers in the Children’s Library (ten in total) which can only be accessed by child tickets and the majority of which are the opposite end to staff counters. It would be interesting to look at the usage statistics for these to see whether they were all necessary.

The first and second floors hold all adult book stock which is categorised into zones; fiction and popular non fiction on the first and the rest of the non fiction on the second along with an extensive local studies collection.  There is also a selection of popular non fiction, gardening and cookery on the bottom floor... I wouldn’t want to try and find shelf checks. The non fiction has been grouped into zones as aforementioned with each zone having their own colour. I can see that this makes stock more browse-able, for example travel guides, travel writing and language courses are found in the same zone but it must take a while to get used to and it is a different type of thought process to find stock than using good old Dewey.

Each floor has public conveniences and a help point in the same place but there is no counter as such on the upper floors. It is planned for these help points to be taken out in the future and for all enquiries to be dealt with at the bottom floor counter with library assistants and information assistants roving around the building. Current practice is that initial enquiries taken on the ground floor are passed up to the first and second floors dependent on their subject and that complaints are sent up to the help points. If I was a frustrated customer I would not want to then have to walk up a flight of stairs to explain my complaint again to another member of staff. The solution they are planning to implement should work theoretically but I’d like to go back on a busy Saturday afternoon and see whether staff have the time to floor walk and how long a queue there is at the ground floor counter.

In the same vein there are only two issues machines and two returns machines for the entire library which can be found on the ground floor. There is an additional exterior book drop machine for when the library is closed. For a building of this size I would have expected machines on each of the floors but when asked staff commented that it is very rare people have to wait to use a machine. The whole library has a feel of an HE or FE library rather than public use.

After a general tour of the building we had two talks; one a very passionate talk about the promotion and collection of local studies, the second regarding Swindon’s RFID machines. The latter covered the basic operation of the machines. Swindon borough has four different versions of RFID machines throughout their branches which I would find very confusing as a customer. There seems to be a machine for everything... one for issues, one for returns, another for releasing public network prints and a general photocopier. I can’t help but think new customers must be quite overwhelmed on an initial visit. The local studies talk was given by an animated member of staff who was obviously passionate about his role and gave me hope for librarianship as a profession. Yes i know it sounds corny but this was a young professional who was passionate about his role, about promoting the collection and making lasting relationships with local history contacts and you can only hope that every library has at least one staff member like this.

This is the first time I’ve been on a visit to a public library as a professional (obviously with the exception of having a snoop when you’re on holiday) and I surprised myself with how much I picked up, how many ideas I left with and the chance to make connections with other public librarians who understand the every day workings of public libraries.

I want to thank CDG for another brilliant visit and all the staff at Swindon Central Library for giving up their time on a Friday afternoon... lots to mull over! There's still a lot I want to say about this but I need to get it straight in my head first... and I need a glass of wine so may muse more tomorrow!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Networking = HELP!!! (Things 6 and 7)

Networking...  selling yourself... my worst nightmare! Yes I can go and talk to a hall full of kids, I can run a rhyme time with 30 screaming toddlers, but talk about myself big no no! I think it’s fair to say I am not the only one who feels like this and therefore do the bare minimum to get by... it’s like I said when I started this blog I find it very difficult to separate the personal and professional in my life and virtual worlds get mangled. LinkedIn is totally a professional tool for me and I don’t know if it is for this reason that I very rarely update it or check in. My Twitter account (@lady_libris) is my in-between account running a mixture of library and personal posts... if you follow me you get the whole package, yes I could have two accounts but that just sounds like too much hassle. Facebook is solely personal and I have succumbed to the common belief that LinkedIn is the office and Facebook the party.

I’ve dipped into other online networks tentatively such as LISNPN to see what’s going on and have taken part in #uklibchat and #chartership chats on Twitter which always seem to bring up the same people and I have found this a good way to begin professional relationships. But what’s the next step after this?  It is difficult for me to get time away for conferences and training days due to staffing so how do you build up these relationships if you miss chances to meet up?

In terms of physical networking beginning my chartership journey has opened doors to new professional contacts of a similar age and experience and I have met professionals in my region who I have a tentative Twitter relationship with. I also have a network of colleagues with whom I studied for my Masters and they are an endless source of help and comfort but also of professional advice and support. I don’t know if I am alone in not being able to find a balance... I do not want to spend every waking hour attached to my laptop on social and professional networks but then you miss out on opportunities. I follow most things online these days and am very good at finding excuses to not go out and meet people, take opportunities that are handed out so maybe I need to stop worrying and jump in.

So I think in short you get involved and you get more out right? Well, I can try and we’ll see what happens....